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The Juvenile Justice System

Criminal justice refers to all the activities carried out by the justice authority in a bid to address, punish or prevent the commission of a crime. There is a wide variety of issues covered under the criminal justice. For example, criminal justice outlines the different ways in which crimes are committed through breaking one or more laws. However, a major part of criminal justice discusses the procedure which is to be followed when punishing criminals or persons guilty of committing crimes (Del Carmen, 2005).

It must be noted, however, that crimes can be committed by people of all genders, races or ages. All criminal offenders who have committed similar offences are treated in almost the same way. The only difference that is observed when handling criminal offenders is brought about by factoring concept of age. The difference occurs as a result of the different systems that are used to try both major and minor offenders.

Criminals who are of a majority age are tried by the normal court system that is set up in the locality or country of the criminal. However, if it is determined that the person who has committed a crime is a minor of less than 18 years of age then he/she is tried by a juvenile court system. This paper will seek to discuss the juvenile court system which is a major topic of criminal justice (Edwards, 2008).

To start with, it is imperative to discuss the different categories of youth who are recognized by the juvenile court system. Delinquents form the first category of youth and are qualified as juvenile offenders. Any minor who performs an activity or an act that would be considered as criminal when committed as by an adult is referred to as a delinquent. The minimum age of minor who can be charged under a juvenile court system is 7 years. The maximum age of a minor who qualifies to be charged under a juvenile court system is 17 years.

Status offenders form the second category of juvenile offenders. This category is used to refer to any minor who commits an act that is wrong when committed by a minor but is considered appropriate when committed by an adult. Examples of acts committed by minors that are qualified to be regarded as status offenders include surpassing set curfews, running away from home or truancy. Neglected minors form the third category of youth who are recognized by the juvenile court system. Minors who lack support or supervision from adults belong to the group of neglected minors (Lemert, 2009).

So as to understand how the juvenile court system operates, it is important to analyze the process that is followed from the time a juvenile offender is arrested by the police to the form of punishment that is given to him/her. For example, the police are allowed by law to exercise a lot of discretion when handling juvenile cases. In cases where a police officer feels that a juvenile offender has committed a trivial crime, he/she could be warned and released.

A police officer who has apprehended a juvenile offender may also decide to release him/her after filing a report. The report documents the offences committed by the juvenile offender. A police officer could also decide to take a juvenile offender into a police station and, thereafter, refer him/her to the nearest youth services agency. Police officers also have the discretion of taking a juvenile offender to court without detaining him/her. Alternatively a police officer may decide to take a juvenile offender to court after detaining him/her. All the above describe the different courses of action an officer might use when dealing with juvenile offenders.

Statistics show that more than 70% of all the juveniles arrested are taken to court by the police officers who had arrested them. However, there exists a huge number of juvenile offences that are not recorded by the court. Instead of recording juvenile offences, police officers handle the juvenile cases informally. In cases whereby the juvenile offenders are guilty of trespass or violating set curfews, police officers may choose to handle such minor offences by warning the guilty minors (Purpura, 2007).

Police officers may also choose to inform the parents of the juvenile offender of their child’s misdemeanor. This informal way of dealing with juvenile offences is meant to transfer the disciplinary obligation from the police to the offender’s parents. Another informal way in which police officers may choose to handle juvenile offenders is by referring them to social service agencies.

The action of a police officer to refer a juvenile offender to a social service agency is called diversion. This course of action is sometimes seen as a better alternative of handling trivial juvenile crimes, since it prevents him from being integrated into the juvenile justice system. Avoidance of the juvenile justice system protects a juvenile offender from being affected by the negative consequences of being labeled as a delinquent.

The seriousness of a juvenile offender’s crime is the main factor that determines whether a police officer will let him/her pass through the juvenile justice system or deal with the case informally. Another factor that may determine how a police officer chooses to deal with a juvenile case is the offender’s race. The class and gender of a juvenile offender may also affect how police officers choose to handle their criminal cases. Police officers may also act according to the perception they have about the juvenile offender’s demeanor (Taylor, 2010). 

The next important aspect of the juvenile court system is to analyze the procedure it follows when dealing with criminals. For example, the first stage of the juvenile criminal procedure is the issuance of a Miranda warning by the police to a suspected youth. A Miranda warning is usually given to a suspected youth before he/she is taken in for a custodial interrogation. The Supreme Court has also given school officials the authority to conduct impromptu searches on suspected students. School officials are also allowed to search the lockers of suspected students. All these searches are to be conducted with no a guarantee if school officials have a strong suspicion that they will find evidence indicating that a minor has violated the law (Del Carmen, 2005).

When analyzing the juvenile criminal procedure it is important to understand the issues, detention of a juvenile offender. First, it should be noted that a juvenile referral made by a school or the police may or may not include the detention of the juvenile offender. Detention can be described as jailing juvenile offenders for a short period time before their court cases are disposed.

Most of the states in the United States require that a juvenile offender must be accorded a fair detention hearing before his/her actual court case begins. The main purpose of a detention hearing is to determine whether a juvenile offender is to be released to his/her parents before the determination of their case (Edwards, 2008).

There are a number of reasons behind a court’s decision to detain a juvenile offender. For example, a judge may decide to detain a juvenile offender so as to guarantee that he/she will be present during court proceedings. This decision is usually arrived when the judge feels that a juvenile offender is likely to flee or go into hiding, if he/she is not detained. Secondly, a judge of a court of law may decide to detain a juvenile offender, if he/she feels that the offender will lack parental supervision, if allowed to go home. A juvenile offender may also be detained to protect him from harming himself/herself or if detention will help to prevent the commission of a crime. A judge may also detain a juvenile offender as a form of punishment to him/her (Lemert, 2009).

The next step in the juvenile criminal procedure is the filing of an intake petition with a probation officer. An intake petition is considered by the probation officer of the juvenile court. The probation officer in the juvenile court is charged with the responsibility of determining whether there is reasonable evidence that purports that the accused juvenile committed a crime.

If it so happens that a probation officer decides not to place a petition to the juvenile court to initiate court proceedings for the crimes committed by the juvenile offender, a police officer can choose to act in a number of ways. For example, the police officer may decide to put the juvenile on informal probation. The police officer may also decide to refer the juvenile to a community agency. Informal probation is supposed to supervise and closely monitor a juvenile to make sure that he/she does not violate probation conditions. If a juvenile violates his/her probation conditions, the supervising officer has the mandate to file a case to the probation officer on the basis of the initial offence the juvenile had committed.

Certification is a possible scenario in the court procedure of a juvenile. Certification refers to the condition whereby a juvenile court chooses to transfer the proceedings of a juvenile case to an adult court. The hearing that decides whether to transfer a juvenile case to an adult court is referred to as a transfer hearing (Purpura, 2007).

The court process that determines whether a juvenile is guilty or not is referred to as adjudication. During the adjudication process, a juvenile is accorded several rights, which include the right to be notified of the charges leveled against him, as well as the right to be provided with counsel. A juvenile is also accorded the right to confront and cross examining witnesses in his/her case. Juveniles are also given the privilege that prevents them from incriminating themselves.

Court proceedings on the day that the judge gives his verdict concerning a juvenile case is called a disposition hearing. Such hearings decide whether a juvenile will be institutionalized or put under probation. A juvenile court may decide to send a delinquent to either a training school, residential treatment institution that is privately owned or a juvenile prison. If a juvenile portrays good behavior during his period of incarceration, he may be released on parole before his period of detention elapses (Del Carmen, 2005).

Conclusion

From the above information, the juvenile court system is a major part of the criminal justice system. Without the establishment of a juvenile court system, it would have been difficult to handle cases of crimes committed by juvenile offenders.

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